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Heat alerts issued in counties across the U.S. from May through September expose the magnitude of danger workers face

Ninety-five percent of counties in the United States faced alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS) from May to September, 2023, according to a new map released today by Public Citizen.

The sweeping scale of excessive heat alerts issued across the U.S. from reveal the dire nationwide need to safeguard workers from heat-related illness, injury, and death. As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continues to consider rules to protect workers from excessive heat, individual workers lack protections from workplaces that have yet to adapt to the nationwide epidemic of extreme heat .

“National Weather Service heat alerts broadcast the critical need to exercise simple safety precautions — reducing strenuous activities, taking refuge from the sun, drinking plenty of water, and using air-conditioning or fans,” said Dr. Juley Fulcher, health and safety advocate with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. “But employers dictate whether workers can take these life-saving measures. An OSHA safety rule is essential ensure workers are protected.”

The National Weather Service issues alerts when the heat index is expected to reach or exceed 100ºF, with some variability based on local temperature norms. These high temperatures place serious limits on the body’s ability to cool itself, leading to a breakdown of the systems that keep us alive.

Nearly 800 counties across 16 states were under extreme heat alerts for more than a month between May and September, 2023, with seven states enduring more than two months of nearly unlivable temperatures. From coast to coast, 1,100 counties suffered through more than three weeks of deadly heat. Portions of every state in the continental U.S. were under at least a full week of heat alerts.

OSHA began developing a heat standard in 2021, but the statute-driven process takes an average of seven to eight years. Congress has the power to speed up that process. In July 2023, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Reps. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and Alma Adams (D-N.C.), reintroduced the Asuncíon Valdivia Heat Illness, Injury and Fatality Prevention Act, legislation that, if passed, would direct OSHA to issue an interim heat standard until a final standard can be completed.

“Our map of extreme heat alerts faced by the vast majority of workers in 2023 is a warning of the the deadly conditions workers will confront in 2024,” said Fulcher. “We must have an OSHA heat standard in place before next summer. Congress must act immediately to ensure employers provide commonsense protections for workers.”

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

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